UK trade welcomes Amazon probe

UK trade welcomes Amazon probe

The trade has welcomed the European Commission’s investigation into Amazon’s e-book business, with publishers, agents and booksellers calling for a fairer digital marketplace for books. 

Richard Mollet, c.e.o of The Publishers Association, added: “For some time now we have been calling on competition authorities to look in to the imbalance in the book retail market. Today’s announcement from the Commission is therefore a welcome development.”

Meanwhile, Sam Edenborough, president of the Association of Authors Agents, said its members would be “glad” the Commission was taking an interest in an area its had had previous concerns about, “because we're keen to see the best competitive conditions for British retailers in the UK market and in Europe”.

He said: “Amazon is a very important partner for agencies directly – many are working with clients who self-publish, and it's a very valuable part of that relationship - but we also want to be confident that publishers in the UK are able to make the most of the marketplace through as diverse an environment as possible. It's reassuring that this interest is being taken, to ensure a decent, fair market, open to all."

Anne Bergman-Tahon, director of the Federation of European publishers, said that while the FEP would be studying the terms of the investigation, at first sight, the group supported “any effort to establish a level playing field between the online retail sector”. 

While Françoise Dubruille, director of the European International Booksellers Federation, said that healthy competition between e-book distributors guaranteed a robust, diverse retail landscape. "It is not good for consumers when there is little room for challengers on the e-book market because single companies abuse a dominant market position to impose unfair business conditions on providers," she said.

Juliet Mabey, publisher at Oneworld, said: “When any company is as successful as Amazon, to the point where it has become both a major player in print book sales and a dominant player in e-book sales, it is only right that any antitrust concerns are carefully monitored to ensure the health of the sector. I think this is in everyone’s interests, from publishers and booksellers to readers.”

While Sam Jordison, co-director of Galley Beggar Press, said the investigation was the "right step”, he added: "I hope it's only one step out of many too. Anything that enables publishers to sell competitively on a diverse number of platforms is good for the industry, good for consumers and good for authors. So too is anything that claws back a bit of power from Amazon and allows other companies to distribute on more even terms. Amazon's virtual monopoly has done tremendous damage to publishers, authors and to the world of literature. It has become harder to publish and to make money for anyone other than Jeff Bezos. That isn't healthy."

One publisher, who did not want to be named, said the investigation "must be a good thing" because Amazon's dominance of the e-book market in the UK had "stifled any competition from Apple or Kobo, and even people like Tesco". The publisher said Amazon's market share had grown from around 90% to 93% for its titles, which was "pretty ridiculous". "The authorities up to now have refused to look at the e-book market as something separate from the physical market, so what is significant here is that this is the first time they have admitted that they think there is monopolistic behaviour from Amazon in the digital market alone," said the publisher. Most favoured nation clauses are "definitely anti-competitive", added the publisher, who theorised that Amazon would be  "forced to drop them or risk further investigation to monopolistic behaviour". 

But, despite welcoming the investigation, the publisher said they feared "it may be too late to change Amazon’s huge dominance in the e-book market in the UK, unless there is much more significant intrusion by the authorities". 

In response to the investigation, Amazon has said: “Amazon is confident that our agreements with publishers are legal and in the best interests of readers. We look forward to demonstrating this to the Commission as we cooperate fully during this process.”

There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct and  the length of an investigation depends on "a number of factors", the EC added.